Amazon Echo Show 15 full review
Amazon’s latest smart display is even more ambitious than last year's rotating Echo Show 10.
It's the biggest smart display we've reviewed at 15.6in and is designed to look like a picture frame because, unlike the other Echo Shows, it’s designed to be mounted on your wall.
The bigger screen allows the Echo Show 15 to do more with things like widgets. And Visual ID lets Alexa recognise you and display relevant content. It's the most advanced Echo Show yet.
The execution, however, isn’t perfect. While Amazon has some great intentions for the Echo Show 15, it’s still early days for some of the key features on offer.
Designed to be wall-mounted
- Designed to be attached to the wall
- Picture frame design makes it blend in
- Optional stand for desk use, sold separately
While the latest Echo Show 10 looks like a combination of smart speaker and tablet display, the Echo Show 15 looks like a picture frame that wouldn’t look out of place on your wall. Unlike previous Echo Shows, it’s completely flat, measuring in at 402 x 252 x 35mm and weighing a shade over 2kg.
The wall, therefore, is where Amazon envisions the Echo Show 15 in most homes. This is why it doesn't include a stand in the box, and there's no built-in kickstand to help it stay upright either.
The smart display sports a black metal frame with an inner white bezel sitting beneath a glass panel, just like a real photo frame, with the only real giveaway (aside from the power cable) being the 5Mp camera mounted in the top-left, just above the display.
There are the usual controls on top of the Echo Show 15 (in landscape mode) to control volume, mute the microphone and, for the privacy-conscious, a slider to cover the camera. There are various inconspicuous microphone holes throughout the frame to allow Alexa to listen for your commands.
On the rear you’ll find a square groove for the mounting bracket, along with a space to store excess cabling and a microUSB port for 'servicing' too.
The cable included is a little bit short at 1.5m – especially if you don't want to locate it directly above a mains socket – but you can get extension cables for as little as £13/$13.
If you really don't want to wall-mount it, there's the option of connecting the Echo Show 15 to a stand such as the Sanus Tilt Stand, supplied to us for review, allowing use in portrait and landscape orientation on a desk.
It comes with a grippy rubber base and an adjustable hinge that lets you position the Echo Show at (almost) any angle. At £29/$29, it’s not the most expensive accessory – it’s just a little frustrating that it’s not included in the box given the Echo Show 15's cost.
Widgets & Visual ID
- Widgets are handy for at-a-glance information
- Widgets take up more screen space than necessary at times
- Needs a more personalised experience with Visual ID support
The biggest new feature is widgets. Displayed on the right of the home screen, widgets aim to provide key information at a glance. That can be in the form of to-do lists and sticky notes, but could also show the current weather.
If you’ve got smart home tech already set up to be controlled with Alexa, you can use the smart home widget to do the same on the Echo Show 15's screen. This could be a deal-making feature for some.
The information shown in widgets can be quite handy, especially as a summary first thing in the morning, giving you a heads up of any calendar events, the local weather and even fun new recipes to try – ideal in a kitchen, of course.
There are a handful of widgets to choose from and you can customise the layout and size of most to better suit your needs.
The problem is that the layout of the widgets is a little rigid right now, taking up more than half of the screen if you have more than four 'small' ones displayed – even if's an empty to-do list.
It’d be much better if the layout was more dynamic, intelligently displaying widgets when there’s relevant info for you and hiding them when there isn’t. This would be a cleaner experience.
Even an option to swipe to the right of the display to temporarily hide the widgets would be an improvement.
The widgets are all from Amazon right now, so you can't have a Spotify 'now playing' or playlist. The good news is that Amazon has already released an APK to allow developers to make their own widgets.
None are available just yet, but it’s only a matter of time before third-party widgets begin to appear and really expand what’s possible with the new system.
It’s worth noting that widgets are exclusive to the Echo Show 15 for now, but it’s not hard to see a future where they’re available on smaller Echo Shows too.
Alexa has been able to recognise voices for some time, offering a personalised voice assistant experience, but the Echo Show 15 has a new way: Visual ID.
The smart display scans your face using the 5Mp camera and can then offer personalised information in card form, including upcoming calendar events, music you’ve listened to recently and information you frequently as for, like the weather, as you approach.
It works well most of the time, but there's scope for improvement. My to-do list widget will appear even if my (registered) housemate is looking at the Echo Show, for example.
This could well change in future as Amazon refines how facial recognition works, possibly serving up personal widgets and other info only you can see, but it’s early days right now.
Amazon is keen to point out that facial data is stored locally, not on Amazon’s servers, for added security. The downside is that you’ll have to re-enrol on other devices if you have multiple Echo Show 15s in your home.
Video & communication
- Amazon Prime Video and Netflix available, and YouTube via browser
- 1080p display looks soft compared to the competition
- No video conferencing apps right now, but support coming soon
As you might expect, the Echo Show 15 works just like other Amazon smart displays.
This means there's a range of video apps that suit the bigger 15.6in display, including popular streaming apps like Netflix and, of course, Amazon Prime Video. There are a few Netflix app-crashing bugs at the time of writing, but I’m confident that it’ll be ironed out in the coming days and weeks.
There’s also a built-in web browser, which allows you to access content via YouTube which, unlike Amazon's Fire TV devices, isn't available in app form on the Echo Show range.
It works well, with a touch keyboard appearing on-screen to enter video search queries and full video player support on many popular websites, but it’s not quite as convenient as having a native YouTube app.
The 1080p resolution means that visuals look a little soft compared to the 1440p display of the competing 14in Meta Portal Plus.
It’s fine for casual viewing, but if video is something you want to use a smart display for a lot, there are higher quality displays available.
It's worth noting that this isn't meant to be a TV replacement, and if you do wall mount the Echo Show 15, it probably won't be in a good position to watch anything for very long.
Much like the Ikea Symfonisk, the flat design of the Echo Show 15 also means it doesn't have the same audio prowess as others in the Show collection, sporting two standard 1.7in drivers that deliver a largely disappointing listening experience devoid of any real bass or detail.
If music is your thing, the Echo Show 10 and its dual 1in tweeters and 3in woofer fares much better.
One thing the big display is handy for is group video calls, but it's frustrating there's still no support for Zoom calls in the UK as there is on the Meta Portal Go. Amazon does say Zoom is coming, but it's been saying that for over a year now.
You can video call other Echo Show users to chat, but the experience isn’t the best for the price.
The fixed position of the display means the screen can’t pan and follow you around the room like the latest Echo Show 10 but what's really odd is that Amazon hasn't built in the tracking facility seen on the second-gen Echo Show 8. It's an intelligent crop-and-zoom feature - also see on the Portal devices - which keeps you in the middle of the frame for those on the other end of the call. So you’ll have to stay fairly static while chatting with friends or family.
The quality of the 5Mp camera could be better too, which delivers a slightly pixelated experience even with decent lighting.
Did somebody say picture frame?
- Basic picture frame functionality when not in use
- UI not customisable
Of course, the design of the Echo Show 15 lends itself to displaying photos. And when it’s not doing anything, the smart display will do just that. You can upload your own photos for a personalised experience, but you can also cycle between stock genres of images, from landscape to abstract art, to suit the environment it’s in.
Frustratingly, the only sources you can use for your own pictures are Amazon's own photo service or Facebook photos, so if you have stacks of images in Google Photos or iCloud, you can't see them on an Echo Show 15.
So if you're reading this, Amazon, please negotiate that with Google and Apple.
As with other Echo Shows, the 15 can also show those same photos and artworks on the home screen alongside the widgets.
Alexa smarts on demand
- Amazon Alexa is a capable virtual assistant
- Skills allow you to expand the functionality on offer
- Virtual assistant capabilities will continue to improve over time
New big-screen features aside, it’s very much business as usual with the Echo Show 15 and Alexa. You can use the virtual assistant to do an ever-expanding number of things, from basic queries "What's 280 divided by 7?" to controlling smart accessories in the home and calling people, both nearby on Alexa devices and farther afield using traditional mobile numbers.
One of the real advantages with Alexa is Skills. These allow you to further expand its capabilities by pairing up your smart home accounts (such as Philips Hue, Lifx, Samsung SmartThings etc) and your other subscription services such as Apple Music which can be the default for when you say "Alexa, play the Spice Girls". Or you could enable the BBC Good Food skill to get recipes on demand.
There’s also the 'Alexa, Fart' skill that makes fart noises, and the 'Meow!' skill meows back at you when you meow at it – both very dumb, but also never fail to get a laugh.
You can also make use of the display to show compatible smart cameras connected to your Amazon account, including Ring Video Doorbells, giving you a hands-free way to see who’s at the door without your smartphone.
The good news is that Alexa and the Echo Show OS continue to improve all the time, both in terms of performance and functionality, so much like a fine wine, I expect the overall experience will only get better as the Echo Show 15 ages.
With the biggest display of any Echo device, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Echo Show 15 is a premium smart display. You can buy one from Amazon in the UK and US for £239.99/$249.99 - the same as the Echo Show 10.
If you’re looking for a smart display that can fit into your home and not look like smart home tech, the Echo Show 15 is the perfect option, but for similar money, the Echo Show 10 has better sound quality and the Meta Portal Plus has more video chat options.
The Amazon Echo Show 15 is a large, attractive smart display designed to be mounted on the wall, and with a design not dissimilar to a photo frame, it doesn’t look out of place either.
Widgets and visual ID are great additions to the Echo Show experience providing information and access to key features at a glance, but there is still some fine-tuning to the overall experience to get the personal touch I’m looking for.
Overall though, the Amazon Echo Show 15 and Amazon Alexa are capable of handling most everyday tasks, and the virtual assistant should continue to get smarter over time.
It’s not flawless, mind: the 1080p display seems a little low (for the screen size) compared to the competition, the 5Mp camera isn't the best and lacks the tracking technology of Amazon's cheaper Echo Shows. Audio quality is middling, too, even if it is perfectly loud enough.
Regardless, the Echo Show 15 is one of the best-looking smart displays available right now.
Amazon Echo Show 15: Specs
- 402 x 252 x 35 mm
- 15.6in display (1920 x 1080)
- Usable in portrait and landscape orientation
- Wall mounting kit included
- Dual 1.6in full-range drivers
- Wi-Fi 5
- Amlogic Pop1 octa-core SoC with Amazon AZ2 neural network engine
- 30W power adapter + 1.5m cable
- 5Mp camera with privacy cover
- Physical mute button
- Widget support
- Visual ID face recognition
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